2018 Kia Stinger: The affordable grand tourer

2018 Kia Stinger 4.JPG
2018 Kia Stinger (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

You know that old phrase, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than beg permission?

Well, that’s kind of how the 2018 Kia Stinger came to exist.

So the story goes, the concept got built and details kept getting added.

Peter Schreyer, chief design officer at Kia Motors Corporation, said during a video interview he doesn’t remember when the production vehicle was actually approved.

“It was just no one said no,” he said.

So they kept going with it.

And here we are, six years after the GT Concept was revealed with a production version of a grand touring car. From Kia.

The idea was to create a car that hearkened back to the European gran turismos with a fastback design that could carry four passengers and their stuff away for a weekend holiday. It’s not meant to be a sports car, though it’s definitely sporty. And it’s not meant to be tracked. Though we tested it on an autocross, and it did really well.

It’s supposed to be attractive, fast, fun and comfortable.

What I have to say to that: Mission accomplished.

We spent a day driving around the mountains near Los Angeles and found the Stinger to be all these things. Plus more.

The Stinger is one of those vehicles I’ve been looking forward to driving for what seems like forever. I drooled over the photos and gobbled up every bit of information I could. Then I worried that it would be like an overhyped movie you finally go to see and think: “It wasn’t that great after all.”

But it was great.

To be fair, we were tooling around on some of the best roads LA has to offer in the V-6 models with all the bells and whistles. So, Kia really put its best face forward.

The top-tier engine is a 3.3-liter V-6 twin turbo that delivers 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque. It has a 0-to-60-mph time of 4.7 seconds. Top speed is 167 mph.

Some pretty interesting performance stats. For a Kia.

I played around with acceleration and hard braking, and Stinger –with its set of Brembo brakes – did quite well.

We tested both rear- and all-wheel-drive models, and while I found I was able to drift the rear of the RWD model a bit more on the autocross, I overall found the AWD model to be more competent and easily controlled. Where the RWD model felt a bit light, the AWD model was more planted.

I liked the throttle response offered by the Sport driving mode, but could see the benefits of switching to Eco mode for road trips.

There is no launch control, and you probably won’t be able to cause a burnout. But if you’re looking for these things, you’re missing the point.

Kia wants this to be a driver’s car. Fun yet functional. And affordable.

Base price for the Stinger is $32,800 (with destination). This is for the RWD model equipped with the base 255-horsepower, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. Kia execs pointed out if you opted for the top-tier GT2 trim with the V-6 engine and AWD, you’ll still only top out around $52K.

That’s impressive considering Kia counts vehicles such as the BMW 440i, Infiniti Q50, Audi S5 and Porsche Panamera to be the “competitive” set. When comparably equipped, you’re looking at a price difference of between $10K and $50K.

The Stinger also has more horsepower, more torque and a higher top speed than any of the aforementioned vehicles. Only the S5 beats its 0-to-60 mph time – and that’s only by 0.2 seconds. Stinger also has better legroom and more cargo volume.

I know what you’re thinking, though: But it’s a Kia.

Michael Sprague, chief operating officer and executive vice president for Kia Motors America, knows it, too.

However, as he said during the press briefing, the Stinger is what he calls “the inflection point” for the brand.

“We think when this vehicle hits the market, all that will be put behind us,” he said.

There’s a good chance that will be true.

The exterior lines of the Stinger are stunning. Yes, you have the signature Kia tiger nose grille, but the athletic fastback lines call to mind a much pricier vehicle.

Plus, Kia paid a lot of attention to the details on Stinger. From hand-stitched materials to real metal accents, the interior quality is solid.

The aeronautical inspiration for the cockpit is clear with the trio of air vents on the center stack. And the seats are really comfy. I appreciated the available adjustable side bolsters during aggressive driving, and all the controls and gauges are within easy reach.

Overall, Kia knocked it out of the park with this one.

But. I do still have a few bones to pick.

First, the only transmission available is an 8-speed automatic. A manual transmission is not in the works and, in fact, wasn’t ever really even discussed. The reasoning: Kia is creating a car for mass consumption and the take rate on a manual would be minimal.

That hurts my soul. And, unfortunately, for that reason alone, I would likely never buy a Stinger -- even though I think it’s pretty awesome.

Another point of contention: Stinger comes with an auto stop/start engine. If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you know I loathe this feature. You can, thankfully, turn it off, but it defaults to on every time you restart your vehicle.

The last potential issue is lack of rear visibility. The rear window is quite narrow, and it hinders how far you can see behind you.

But that’s it. Those are the only nits I can find to pick.

The bottom line

At the end of the day, someone who wants a Porsche Panamera – and has the money to pay for it – isn’t likely to consider a Kia Stinger when they cross-shop.

But for someone who has no preconceived brand desires, Stinger is an excellent value proposition. It has better performance numbers than similarly sized BMW, Audi and Infiniti vehicles. It’s also fun to drive, comfortable and chockfull of technology.

Plus, frankly, it’s just cool.

Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Kia covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.